#neverforget My 9-11 Story

This post was originally written on my personal blog in 2003. It has been revised and reposted each year since then.

It still seems like just yesterday.

I had moved into my dorm at Douglass College just days earlier. As I sat in the dining hall on that beautiful morning with my best friend Erin chatting about our schedules, I remember hearing the morning radio show talking about the Twin Towers. I also remember Erin and I wondering aloud why talk radio was being broadcast in the dining hall and why were the hosts talking about something that had happened in 1993? We tuned it out; it became nothing more than white noise in the background. We were college students and it didn’t seem important. We finished breakfast and headed off to class.

I went to my Women and Public Policy class; it was a class of about 50-60 students and I think I was the only freshman. As my classmates settled into seats in the small lecture hall, our professor, Jen, apologized as she placed her cell phone on the podium. She explained that she had to keep it turned on because she a had a flight out of Newark later that day and she needed to keep up on any delays due to the incident in the city.

That was the first that I heard about a plane crash.

This was college in 2001. I had a TV in my room but it wasn’t hooked up yet. We had the internet but it was hardwired and most of my time was spent on AIM, not looking at news sites. I had a cell phone but it definitely wasn’t smart. In class, I had a notebook and pen, so there was no way to seek out any more information than what the instructor shared with us. I hadn’t heard about a plane crash, but everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes and most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot; a tragedy, but nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. There were no details available. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. I packed up my bag at the end of class and followed a group of students out of the building. I remember walking back to the dorm, over the Hickman Bridge, listening to people around me say they heard that classes were canceled for the rest of the day. It seemed strange, but I figured I would get details when I made it back to my room.

As I walked into my building, I could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air hit me like a slap in the face. Girls were walking around crying. A group was huddled around the one television in the back lounge. I walked up the three flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone, which had been turned off in class, but the call would not go through. “All circuits are busy” was the only response I got when I dialed. Cell phone lines were jammed.

As I kept hitting the redial button, I watched my floormates pace up and down the hall. One of the girls walked past my door no less than twenty times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get in touch with her father who worked in the Twin Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents, even if they didn’t work in the city. We all just needed the reassurance of talking to family.

Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and walked back downstairs to the lounge where I sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our common room TV. No one spoke. We’d only met a few days earlier and suddenly the scariest event of our lives was occurring in the city we thought of as our own. The city.

After a few minutes, I couldn’t watch the news anymore. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened; they kept showing the same clips over and over and they didn’t have any answers. I hoped I could find out more on the internet.

At 11:00am, I finally got through to my mother (while reloading news sites over and over) who she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see flames from the beach by our house and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it, I chose to stay. I wanted to be with my friends, and I admit that the idea of driving home was frightening. None of us knew what was happening or what would happen in the next few hours. It felt safer for us all to stay in one place.

It wasn’t easy, though. The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence, alternating between watching the television coverage and reading each other updates from the internet. At one point, fighter jets flew over campus and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. Were we at war? That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I sent IMs and received IMs from friends who were at school in the city, in DC, and across the country. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, only about 60 students in a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we all felt while we checked on all “our” Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.

AOL Instant Messenger was our lifeline. Away messages served as life affirmers. Emails were sent back and forth.

I will never forget signing on to our high school email network and reading the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers. The tragedy began to hit home as some of my peers posted messages asking for classmates to look for names on lists- parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. As each new manifest was posted by the media it became more and more apparent that some of those who were missing would not be coming home that night.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…

Later that day, my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made a decision. I went home.

I stayed home. School was cancelled for days. We weren’t sure when classes would start again. Most of my floormates went home, too. We didn’t know if we were at war, if terrorists would strike somewhere else in the coming days, if we were safe. Suddenly college didn’t seem that important.

At home, my mother told me how on the morning of September 11th, ferries came from the city to our harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. Ferries would load up and sail to any dock available outside of Manhattan. Passengers stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

Over the next few days, the newspapers talked about how my town, Middletown, was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school. Parents, siblings, friends, colleagues all of them. We were a commuter town and every family was touched in some way. Today, Middletown is known as the place that lost the most residents on 9/11 after NYC. There are memorials all over town. There are scholarships and 5K races each year in memory of those who were lost. It’s a constant part of so many lives.

We all grew up that day and our lives changed forever. Safety and security became the most important social and political issues. 9/11 effects us to this day; we take our shoes off at the airport, we arrive 3 hours early, and we still get a little too nervous when flying. But this isn’t new for my students. For them, it’s just the way it’s always been. September 11th is history to them, something they read about each year. For my entire teaching career, I’ve had to be careful of what I’ve said on 9/11 because there was always a student in the room whose life was touched by the tragedy. But now? My students were not born when the tragedy struck. If their family lost a loved one, my student most likely never met them. My current freshmen were born in 2005.

That’s hard for me to comprehend because 9/11 is such a huge part of my life. But for my students, it’s something their parents and other adults talk about. The visual of a plane hitting the towers live on television isn’t part of their life; that’s something I can’t imagine. But for my students today is September 11th “capital letter because it’s a month” not September 11th “a day that changed our lives forever so it has forever been ingrained in our minds”.

For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute. While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned. It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives. Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too. September 11th will always be a day that stops me in my tracks, but I am glad that it’s history for my students. I hope they never experience anything like we all did on that day. But I also hope that they never forget.

We will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……

Slice of Life 31

Slice of Life 30

As I said to a friend today, March is eleventy billion days long this year. Somehow tomorrow is still March, if you can believe it. We really need to ensure that spring break is always at the end of March for everyone’s sanity; colleges have the right idea.

I did get today’s Wordle and Heardle pretty quickly, so that’s always a good way too start the morning. I also had the pleasure of meeting with a professional book club within my department today. We are discussion Penny Kittle and Kelly GallagherMs newest book over Google Meet. While I don’t want everything to remain virtual, I do hope we all keep offering virtual options for events and meetings because it makes them so much more accessible.

And with that, I’m falling asleep. Time yo get some shut-eye!

Slice of Life 29

It’s still Winter: The Sequel here in NJ. At least my winter clothes are getting a few more wears in before the warm-weather clothes come out.

Tonight we attended the township committee meeting to witness them vote on changing the zoning for the parcel across the street. They did so, unfortunately, but we knew that was coming. However. I’ll be sleeping in my crypt tonight because while at the committee meeting i saw that the town was are honoring the high school boys soccer team for their championship season. When they called out one name I realize I’d worked with his mother at my first teaching job. How could that possible?! He was a baby then and now he’s almost an adult!

Time flies. Ooof.

I got a chance to briefly chat with my dither colleague, which was great, but I sure feel old tonight!

Slice of Life 28

Welcome to second winter in New Jersey! It was 80° a few days ago, and I contemplated putting away my sweaters. Thank goodness I did not do that! It was below freezing yesterday. Not too bizarre for the end of March, but my body got used to warmer temperatures already. All the plants got used to warm weather, too.

Yesterday we got snow squall warnings from the National Weather Service, too.

Not only was it cold, but also we had white-out conditions briefly all over the state. That was bizarre for this time of year! I drove through a squall on my way home and instead of snowflakes there were little ice pellets falling from the sky and bouncing off everything.

New Jersey: experience all four seasons in just 24 hours or so!

Slice of Life 27

March is finally almost over. 🙌

Seriously, this has been such a long, unending month. (Yes, I realize how redundant that sounds. This entire month has felt redundant).

The most exciting part of my weekend was that Aldi opened just five minutes from my house. I’m a big Aldi fan, but I love about 25 minutes from three different ALDIs….until now! ALDIs is my favorite store because they carry almost everything I need, are priced better than most grocery stores, and I can be in and out very quickly due to its size.

I think I’m officially old. I’m excited about a grocery store.

Slice of Life 26

Some days are meant for rest. Today was one of those days. We still have three weeks until spring break, and I am mentally a d physically exhausted. As a result, today was a quiet day.

The new Aldi opened down the street and was the most exciting part of the day. Is it a sign of my age that a new discount grocery store made my day? I finished my grocery shopping, so tomorrow should be relaxing, too!

Slice of Life 25

A few years ago, I started hearing about the show called Hamilton playing at the Public Theater. It was impossible to get tickets, and I was so mad I missed out. Then, as we all know, the show moved to Broadway and tickets were almost impossible to get for years. I managed to snag tickets a few times in those first few years, but I always regretted not getting to see it at the Public.

A few weeks ago, I started hearing about another show at the Public. Suffs “brings to life a complicated chapter in the ongoing battle for the right to vote: the American women’s suffrage movement.” Of course, the limited run was completely sold out. But then today I I saw on Instagram that they extended the run by a few weeks and a new block of tickets was on sale. Long story short, I’m seeing Suffs at the Public in May! It’s a bucket list item, for sure.

Slice of Life 24

Tonight I was supposed to see a new musical at Paper Mill Playhouse. Originally, these tickets were for June 2020; when we were finally able to use them we picked 3/24. This morning, I woke up and wondered what the heck we were thinking. Original plan- see the show on a weeknight in June 2020. Why did we think a Thursday in March would work?!

I’m exhausted. Aren’t we all? After work, I was dreading rushing home, walking the dogs, then racing to Millburn (at least an hour’s drive). A little before we were supposed to leave, I texted my friend and said I was exhausted.

The good(?) news? She agreed! Long story short, we returned our tickets and will buy new tickets for later in the run. We just can’t hang right now, a million weeks after winter break and a million weeks before skeins break. We are all way too tired.

I’m so glad we were able to reschedule. Now I can see the show and enjoy it instead of struggling to stay awake!

Slice of Life 23

Today I spent my work day at BTHS with my humanities colleagues working on curriculum. In the morning, we participated in a fantastic workshop centered on the NJ inclusivity standards for persons with disability and LGBTQ folks. We spent the afternoon working on curriculum. It was great spending time with my colleagues professionally.

One of the things we talked about was making time to read as teachers. I talked about how many audiobooks I listen to and extolled the virtues of the Libro.fm ALC program for educators. So many English teacher issues could be solved if part of our school day was devoted to reading. We could choose new books, read literature, etc. I make time to read constantly, but I know that’s not easy for everyone. We need prep/grading time and reading time to do our jobs.